Norwegian Sea January 1999 Texaribbean Cruise
Check-In and Boarding
Our first unpleasant surprise came from the parking fee in the Houston lot -- $49. In retrospect, this was comparable to what I paid per day in Port Canaveral -- I was just unprepared for it. Perhaps you won't be surprised if you know ahead of time.
The check-in process was quick and painless. I was intrigued when NCL didn't take my credit application up front. Premier had required it prior to boarding and NCL didn't want to see the form until the next day aboard ship.
[Click on the image to see a larger photo. Use your BACK button to return] The cabin was smaller than the one on the Big Red Boat, but certainly functional. We had plenty of room to sleep and get ready to go out. However, be careful coming out of the bathroom because the door opens into the only standing space in the cabin and you are likely to deck your cabin mate. My impression is that 90% of the cabins are the same size until you get to the top two or three price levels. The different prices at the bottom are based on location within the ship and inclusion of a window. We had an inside cabin on Deck 3 almost all the way forward.
Our bed was created by pushing two floor level beds together. The bottom sheet was king sized, but the comforter and blanket/sheet were twin sized and overlapped in the middle. The blanket/sheet was a comforter thickness cover enclosed in sheet material -- very comfortable. There was no top (flat) sheet. Obviously, I would have liked to have a full or queen sized bed with appropriate linens, but I suppose this makes the room less flexible.
The cabin was extremely clean and there was no evidence that it had ever been used before except for a couple of scrape marks on the wall (they looked like heel marks). I'm always impressed at how well excellent cleaners can do their jobs. Our cabin steward was a good one.
One night when the entertainment was a little slow, we decided to watch X-Files (the movie), which was supposed to start at 7:30. We tuned in the TV to see the trailer of the previous movie, but by 8:00, it had not started.
After finally getting aboard ship and finding our cabin, we started exploring. We were so excited, we forgot about being hungry, but followed a crowd into the Seven Seas dining room, where we remembered that we hadn't eaten lunch yet.
There are two dining rooms aft on Deck 4, with the kitchen in between them. The Seven Seas dining room has better views as it is the most aft. We were assigned to the Four Seasons dining room. The Four Seasons is walled on two sides, has glass on one and a see-through hallway on the other.
Soups generally came in three varieties: cold, broth, and creamy. We never tried any of the cold soups. The broth soups were watery with a few noodles or meats thrown in. The creamy soups seemed to all be from the same base. I preferred the creamy soups and all had a great flavor.
All of the beef looked overdone. No matter what you ordered, it looked well-done. However, if you cut into the beef, it would be more like what you had ordered. I would guess this is caused by "holding" the meals under a heat light or in a warmer until the passengers are seated and served. The beef was tender and had great flavor. I was happy with all of my beef orders.
Overall, the meals were excellent. We had a great dining experience and had foods that we would never have ordered under different circumstances. Try the conch fritters when they come up -- they're great.
I got some bad fish in an order of "Fish and Chips" one lunch. The fish (cod) was bad quality and had a strong, oily taste. The batter had a re-warmed quality to it. Buy some frozen battered fish, cook it, put it in the refrigerator, and microwave it the next day and that is about what the batter was like. I sent mine back and ordered some beef burgundy stuff over noodles that my wife had ordered -- fantastic. The whole table changed their order. The maitre'd came by to find out exactly what was wrong. What's weird is that he kept coming back day after day, telling us that they had thrown out the batter or that they had received a fresh shipment of fish, etc. After three updates, my wife and I were laughing at him and waiting for him to come back, but he finally stopped mentioning the fish.
I guess I would have liked to have had the waiter take back the fish and return with my new order -- saying something along the lines of "We're sorry that you didn't like the fish. We hope you'll like the xxx better."
In my simple life, a waiter's primary function is to keep my water glass filled and bring me my order. On the cruise, we had a little bit too much etiquette. We had ten (yes, 10) pieces of silverware. The waiter and busboy were constantly moving or removing silverware and seemed to not have time to refill the water glasses. After the entrée, they went to all of their tables and removed the salt and pepper shakers -- who cares!!
One of the ladies at my table asked the wine steward (who pretty much stands around) if she could have some iced tea when he came by to ask if anybody wanted "drinks." She was told she would have to ask the busboy for that. Nodding and then telling the busboy himself would have been a more appropriate response.
During breakfast one morning (open seating), my table ran out of sugar for coffee and tea. When asked if they had more sugar, they sent someone to look into the back instead of just grabbing it off of an empty table. Somehow, they missed the point. As far as I know, the guy who went to the back never returned. I excused myself from the table and grabbed some sugar off the next table.
We took three excursions: Manchone's Reef (snorkelling), Chichen Itza (Mayan ruins), and a Roatan Sea Kayak/Snorkel trip. NCL breaks their excursions into two categories -- Shore Excursions (tours and beach parties) and Dive-In Tours (snorkeling and SCUBA).
Our first trip, in Cancun, was to Manchone's Reef. This was a snorkeling trip where we were to meet a sailboat which was to take us to the dive site. The sailboat turned out to be a trimaran (a three-hulled sailboat) which never operated under sail. It would have more accurately been described as a raft. The dive was pretty uninteresting because the water was rough and the visibility was pretty low. The trimaran ride was bad enough that at least four people were getting sick into plastic bags handed out by the crew. I couldn't recommend this excursion to the first time snorkeler. The excursion lasted four hours for a one-hour dive. The rest was spent either on tenders or on the trimaran. The Mexican crew of the trimaran was extremely nice and helpful. The NCL divers seemed a little stand-offish.
NCL lets you take towels off of the ship for a $25 deposit (each). At the pier, the Dive-In staff collected the snorkeling equipment as a convenience if you wanted to do some shopping before you returned to the ship. One passenger asked if he could also return his towel at the pier. He was told "No. The towels are your responsibility." Another barrel on the pier too much trouble?
The second excursion, Chichen Itza, was really good. It would have been better to go to Chichen Itza from Cancun, but because of the arrival and departure times in Cancun, this was not possible. We boarded a ferry to Playa Del Carmen and then had a 3:20 bus ride to the park. They are really cool ruins, and our Mexican guide knew enough about them to author a guide book. This 10½ hour tour actually only spent two hours on the site. Two hours weren't enough, but this is a must-see if you haven't been to the ruins before. It's worth the travel.
The third excursion, in Roatan, really made the trip for us. We were unfamiliar with sea kayaking and had visions of having to learn to recover from an upside down boat. I expected the recovery training to leave little energy for the actual trip. However, the sea kayaks were simply plastic canoes which didn't tip easily. They were stable enough that if you fell out, you could have re-boarded while they were floating in the water. My wife and I were in a two-man model and we found it extremely easy to learn and use. We paddled about 30 minutes around one part of the island, pulled into a Mangrove canopy, and paddled back. It was a really scenic and exciting tour.
At lunch, we had a choice of about 20-25 different items that were served back at the tour guide's restaurant. The choices included common fare such as sandwiches, chips, and fruit, to more native foods, such as plantains, conch, a native spaghetti and a Carribean red beans and rice. The food was great. After lunch, we went on a casual snorkel tour of the inlet (West Bay). This tour put the Cancun tour to shame. The water was more enclosed and so was almost flat. The reef was pretty much at five to ten feet in depth and was just teeming with fish. We saw dozens of different fish, a moray eel, and a school of squid.
Motion On the Ocean
Are you going to get seasick on this ship? Probably not. The motion is pretty slight, though at times it was noticeable. Since our cabin was toward the front of the ship, we had more of a rise and fall motion, rather than rocking. If you are prone to seasickness, get something before you get on the ship. The tenders are much worse (they are smaller). My wife took Dramamine from time to time and it worked well for her. We had three to six foot seas on the trip.
Interestingly, when we returned home, both my wife and I felt light-headed. We were wondering if we had eaten something funny or were getting sick. The next morning, when I felt my office building move as if it were docking, I got a hint of what was happening: I suspect that since our inner ears had been rocking for seven days, they had trouble dealing with being still. This after-effect was more amusing than anything else and went away after 24 hours.
For entertainment aboard ship, there were several lounge bands. All of them were extremely good and could really put on a show. The main show each night was done by either the song and dance troup, a blues singer, a magician/comedian, or a comedian. We didn't see the comedian, but everybody else was absolutely top notch.
There was something for everybody. Including dance lessons, contests, sports events, bingo, casino gambling (I found it amusing that you had to pay for drinks in the casino), clay pigeon shooting, swimming, workouts, etc.
Return to Real Life
The night before we left the ship, we were required to get new luggage tags color-coded according to flight times or cabin deck number. The tag color determined the order in which you left the ship. The distribution of luggage tags was on the honor system. Although all of the literature warned against booking flights earlier than 1:00, well over half the ship left with the first group. I would have liked to see NCL check airline tickets and put the violators into a room where they had to wait until everyone else left the ship. However, there is little to gain for NCL in this move. Look around the table at dinner some night: some of those nice people are going to lie their way off the ship early. We were in the last group and it was nice to see that our dinner companions were honest, too. I feel sorry for anybody who truly had an early flight time.
Picking up the luggage and passing through customs was pretty uneventful. I get nervous when other people have an opportunity to pick up my suitcase without me being around. My hanging bag was picked up in Reno at baggage claim by someone with an identical bag. However, NCL had people there shouting to check your luggage tag. Thank you.
We had to carry our own luggage to the car because there weren't enough porters available. I saved $4.00 and my wife and I got a free workout.
Do It Again?
In a minute. I would have no hesitation in recommending this cruise to anyone considering a fun vacation. Next time, I'll probably try another brand simply to see the differences, but not because I was dissatisfied with NCL. Great cruise.
Rick Huff is a computer programmer living in Austin, Texas, a certified diver, and is currently working on obtaining his pilot's license. Rick can be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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